Petersburg Dionysus

But someone was talking to him!

Aleksandr Ivanovich Dudkin dragged his thought away from the moving tide of abundance; its flowing streams of nonsense polluted pretty well everything; after bathing in the mental collective, his thought also became nonsense; with difficulty he directed it towards the words that chattered into his ear: these words were Nikolai Apollonovich’s; Nikolai Apollonovich had long been beating his ear with words; but the passing words, flying into his ears like splinters, shattered the sense of the phrases; that was why Aleksandr Ivanovich found it hard to understand what was being repeated over and over again into his eardrum; into his eardrum idly, long-windedly, tormentingly, the drumsticks beat out a fine tattoo: Nikolai Apollonovich, tearing himself out of the thick mass, went jabbering on without cease, swiftly.

‘Do you understand,’ Nikolai Apollonovich kept saying, ‘do you understand me, Aleksandr Ivanovich …’

‘Oh, yes, I understand …’

And Aleksandr Ivanovich tried to extract with his ear the phrases that were addressed to him: this was not so easy, because the passing words shattered against his ears like a hail of stones:

‘Yes, I understand you …’

‘There, inside the tin,’ Nikolai Apollonovich kept saying, ‘life must be stirring: the clock inside it has been ticking strangely …’

At this point Aleksandr Ivanovich thought:

‘What tin, what tin is he talking about? And what has any tin got to do with me?’

But when he had listened more carefully to what the senator’s son was repeating, he realized that it was the bomb he was talking about.

‘Life must have stirred inside it when I set it in motion; it was all right, it was dead … I turned the key; even, yes: began to sob, I assure you, like a drunken body, half awake, when it’s shaken out of slumber …’

‘So you set it in motion?’

‘Yes, it started ticking …’

‘The hand?’

‘For twenty-four hours.’

‘Why did you do that?’

‘I put it, the tin, on the desk and looked at it, looked and looked; my fingers reached out for it of their own accord; and – it just happened: my fingers somehow turned the key of their own accord …’

‘What have you done?! Throw it into the river immediately!?!’ – Aleksandr Ivanovich cried, throwing up his hands in unfeigned alarm; his neck twitched.

‘Do you understand, it made a face at me? …’

‘The tin?’

‘As a matter of fact, I was seized by a very large number of constantly changing sensations as I stood over it: a very large number … Simply the devil knows what … I must confess I have never experienced anything like it in all my life … I was overcome by revulsion – and so much so that revulsion made me burst … All kinds of rubbish came crawling, and, I repeat – a terrible revulsion at it, the incredible, the incomprehensible: at the very shape of the tin, at the thought that sardines had, perhaps, once floated in it (I cannot stand the sight of them); a revulsion at it rose as at some enormous, hard insect that was chattering in my ears its incomprehensible insect chatter; do you understand – it had the effrontery to babble something at me? … Eh? …’

‘Hmm …’

‘A revulsion, as at an enormous insect whose shell gives off a savour of nauseating tin; there was something part-insect, part-unplated metal dish about it … Can you imagine – I was bursting, nauseated … I mean, it was as if I had … swallowed it …’

‘Swallowed it? Ugh, how ghastly …’

‘Simply the devil knows what – I swallowed it; do you understand what that means? Became a bomb walking on two legs with a repulsive ticking in my belly.’

‘Quiet, Nikolai Apollonovich – quiet: someone may hear us here!’

‘They won’t understand any of it: it’s impossible to understand it … This is what you have to do: keep it in your desk, stand and listen to its ticking … In a word, you have to experience it all for yourself, in sensations …’

‘But you know,’ Aleksandr Ivanovich said, getting interested in what he was saying now – ‘I do understand you: the ticking … You hear the sound differently; if you only listen closely to the sound, you will hear in it – something that’s the same, and yet different … I once tried to frighten a neurasthenic; began to tap my finger on the table, with a hidden meaning, you know – in time to the conversation; well, so then he looked at me, turned pale, fell silent and when he asked: “Why are you doing that?” I replied to him: “For no reason,” and went on tapping the table. Can you imagine – he had a fit: he was so offended that he wouldn’t return my greeting when I met him in the street … I understand that …’

‘No, no, no; it’s impossible to understand it … There was something that rose up, came back to my memory – some kind of delirious fantasies that were unfamiliar and yet familiar …’

‘You remembered your childhood – didn’t you?’

‘It was as though a bandage had been removed from all my sensations … There was a stirring above my head – you know? My hair stood on end: I understand what that means; only it wasn’t that – not my hair, because one stands with one’s head exposed. To have one’s hair stand on end – I understood that expression last night; and it wasn’t my hair; it was my whole body, standing, like hair – on end: it was bristling with little hairs; and my legs and my arms and my chest – they were all as if made of invisible fur that was being tickled with straw; or like this, too: as if one were getting into a cold bath of Narzan mineral water and there were little bubbles of carbon dioxide on one’s skin – tickling, pulsating, racing – faster and faster, so that if one froze, the throbbing, pulsating and tickling would turn into some kind of powerful feeling, as though one were being torn to pieces, as though the limbs of one’s body were being pulled apart in contrary directions: as though in the front one’s heart was being torn out, while in the rear, in the rear, from one’s back, like a long branch from a wattle fence, one’s backbone was being torn out; as if one were being pulled up by one’s hair and down by one’s feet into the bowels of the earth … One moved – and everything froze, as though …’

‘In a word, Nikolai Apollonovich, you were like Dionysus being torn to pieces … But, joking apart: now you are speaking quite a different language; I do not recognize you … You are not speaking in Kantian terms any longer … I haven’t heard this language from you before …’

‘But I just told you: it’s as though a bandage had fallen – from all my sensations … Not in Kantian terms – that’s true, what you said … Kant is out of it completely! … There everything is different …’

‘There, Nikolai Apollonovich, logic has been introduced into the blood, or rather, the sensations of the brain in the blood or – dead stagnation; and so now you have received a real shock from life, and the blood has rushed to your brain; that is why in your words one can hear the pulsation of real blood …’

‘You know, when I stand above it, and – tell me, please: it seems to me – yes, but what was I talking about?’

‘It “seems” to you, you said,’ Aleksandr Ivanovich confirmed …

‘It seems to me – that I swell up all over, that I’ve been swelling up for a long time: perhaps for hundreds of years; and that I’m walking around, without noticing – like a swollen monster … It really is dreadful.’

‘It all comes from your sensations …’

‘But tell me, I’m … not …’

Aleksandr Ivanovich smiled sympathetically:

‘On the contrary, you’ve grown thinner: your cheeks are drawn and you have circles under your eyes.’

‘I stood there, over it … But it wasn’t “me” standing there – not me, not me, but … some, so to speak, giant with the most enormous idiot’s head and a sinciput that had not grown together; and at the same time – my body was pulsating; on absolutely every part of my skin I felt little needles: they were stabbing and pricking me; and I plainly felt the pricking – at a distance of at least a quarter of an arshin from my body, outside my body! … Eh? … Just think about it! Then a second, and a third: a huge number of jabs in a completely physical sensation – outside, beside my body … While the jabs, the throbbings, the pulsations – you understand! – outlined my own contours – beyond the limits of my body, outside my skin: my skin was inside my sensations. Was that it? Or had I been turned inside out, with my skin facing inwards, or had my brain jumped out?’

‘You were simply beside yourself …’

‘It’s all very well for you to say “beside yourself”; everyone says “beside yourself”; that expression is just an allegory, supported not by physical sensations, but at best merely by emotion. But I felt beside myself in a completely physical, physiological sense, and not at all in an emotional one … Of course, in addition, I was also beside myself in your sense: that is, I was shocked. But the main thing wasn’t that, but the fact that the sensations of my organs flowed around me, suddenly expanded, dilated and exploded into space: I exploded, like a bo – ’


‘Into pieces! …’

‘Someone might hear …’

‘But who was it standing there, experiencing – me, or someone else? It happened to me, inside me, outside me … You see what verbiage results? …’

‘Remember, earlier, when I visited you, with the little bundle, I asked you why I was I. You didn’t understand me at all at the time …’

‘But now I understand it all: but it’s dreadful, really dreadful …’

‘No, it isn’t dreadful – it’s the genuine experience of Dionysus: not verbal, not literary, of course … The experience of the dying Dionysus …’

‘Simply the devil knows what!’

‘Now calm down, Nikolai Apollonovich, you’re dreadfully tired; and no wonder: to go through so much in the course of a single night … It would knock anyone off his feet.’ Aleksandr Ivanovich put his hand on Nikolai Apollonovich’s shoulder; the shoulder was at the level of his chest; and that shoulder was trembling; Aleksandr Ivanovich now experienced quite plainly and simply a need to get away from Nikolai Apollonovich, who was trembling nervously before him, in order to give himself a clear and calm account of what had happened.

‘But I am calm, completely calm; you know, I wouldn’t mind having a drink now; a bit of courage and uplift … I mean, can you tell me for certain that the commission is an illusion?’

Aleksandr Ivanovich could do nothing of the kind; none the less, with unusual fervency, Aleksandr Ivanovich merely snapped out:

‘I guarantee it …’